A/N: So, here's chapter eleven :) It hasn't been beta'd yet so I hope you'll forgive my many grammar mistakes and typos xD. Oh, and I had no idea how to write an Italian accent (as you'll see soon enough), so I just didn't even attempt it, because I knew it would just end up ridiculously over the top and impossible to read. My apologies. I hope it doesn't seem too unrealistic or anything :/ I'm also really sorry for the horrible POV change about halfway through. Argh, this is the problem when I can't get it beta'd straightaway! I've got no one to tell me whether it's awful or not :D Sorry, I'm setting a really bad tone here...
On a more upbeat note, I'd like to say a HUGE thank you to everyone's who's been reading this! I'm always really grateful, obviously, but especially so just now because this story has just passed 10,000 reads! Thanks so much, guys :D Anyway, I hope you enjoy :)
Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city. -- George Burns
After the shocking events of October – in which the editors of the school newspaper (The Hogwarts Express) had taken great pleasure in going into complete overdrive – November flew by with relative calm.
Quidditch matches came and went, with Slytherin dropping to last place in the league due to a combination of injuries, bad luck, and insubordination, causing Professor Zabini to be especially vindictive towards his sixth-year potions class. In their other subjects too, the work became increasingly difficult, meaning that Scorpius could often be found sitting up with Bletchley and Melanie Flint (of all people) until the early hours of the morning, all of them straining to finish four essays at once.
With his academic and sporting abilities slowly slipping down the drain, Scorpius would have thought, at least, that the one thing he would be able to count on was his social life. This, unfortunately, was not the case.
Probably the most contributing factor to his misery was that Grace was always off with James, and having the time of her life by all accounts, much to Scorpius's chagrin. Rather less annoyingly, Bella was determinedly spending her time with anyone whose surname wasn’t Malfoy – generally Georgina Goyle, consoling her after her split with Pucey. On top of all this, Scorpius hadn’t had a girlfriend in eons, all of which resulted in him spending increasing amounts of time with Bletchley. Yes, Bletchley, the guy he hadn’t called by his first name in about five years, which showed just how slow his social life was.
Even now, some way into December, relations between Scorpius and Grace were still turbulent at best. She had, eventually, deigned to ‘officially’ forgive him, but he knew that she was still annoyed at his lack of support, and also that she maintained he thought her incapable of getting a boyfriend. Scorpius, for his part, was fully aware that he was probably in the wrong, but refused to admit it on the grounds that he hated Potter, and also that Grace was being completely unreasonable.
Bella and Bletchley, meanwhile, were resigned to being stuck in the middle of the little feud. Martin put on a supportive front around Grace, but then spent hours afterwards thoroughly badmouthing James with Scorpius in their dorm. Bella, on the other hand, seemed completely indifferent to the entire relationship; while she acknowledged that James was good-looking (which pleased Grace) and also that he was a Potter for Merlin’s sake (which satisfied Scorpius and Bletchley), she refused to truly side with either of them.
However, Scorpius had been forced to get all information regarding Bella from Bletchley, as she was still not speaking to him, and vice versa. They weren’t technically still fighting, but they were far from okay. At least, he thought they were. Actually, if he was honest, Scorpius wasn’t entirely sure what the situation was between them. He was happy for things to stay this way, however, as it was the easiest route out. Merlin, he was such a coward. As far as he was aware, however, she had not chosen to share the news of his feelings for Rose with anyone else, for which he was both surprised and extremely relieved (although a more mistrustful part of him suspected that she was simply storing this weapon for use at a later date).
And so, what with all these traumas going on at school, Scorpius was starting to think that spending a week with a loved-up Astoria and Carlo wouldn’t be so bad after all. By the time the eleventh of December came around, Scorpius – having spent two days of the Christmas holiday at home (and avoiding Draco to the best of his ability) – was as prepared as he would ever be for the stay in Italy. One thing was for sure: it couldn’t be worse than Hogwarts with feuding friends or Wiltshire with a moody father.
With his bags packed, his homework finished in record time, and an awkward goodbye made to Draco, Scorpius stepped into the fire, throwing in a handful of floo powder, and was engulfed by a whoosh of green flames. A moment later, he was stepping out of the fireplace into the living room of his mother’s house. As he began to brush soot off his clothes, the two figures in the room both stood up.
“Scorpius!” Astoria practically squealed, hurrying over to him at once.
“Hey, Mother,” he replied, as she flung her arms around him, pulling him to her in a tight hug.
“I’ve missed you,” she said into his hair, before breaking away and holding him at arms length, surveying him critically. “How are you?” she asked. “How’s school? Are they working you harder this year?”
“Mother, I –” Scorpius started.
“You should really write more, darling, I’ve had about two letters from you all year, and it’s not asking a lot of you, is it?”
“I did, well, I tried to –”
“Have you spoken to your father recently? How is he?”
“Yeah, he’s fine –”
“He’s not giving you a hard time, is he? You can tell me if he is, and it wouldn’t surprise me, I know what he can be like –”
There was a low chuckle from somewhere behind Astoria followed by a deep, rather amused voice saying, “Love, at least give him a chance to answer,” and Carlo Rossi stepped into Scorpius’s line of vision.
“Thanks, Carlo,” Scorpius said with genuine gratitude as Astoria released him.
Despite the fact that his mother had left his father and run off to Italy and practically straight into Carlo’s arms, Scorpius had, over the years, found himself growing to rather like the Italian. Carlo’s dark eyes twinkling good-naturedly in the firelight, he clapped Scorpius on the shoulder by way of greeting. “Astoria has been very excited about you coming,” he said, apparently feeling he needed to explain for his fiancée’s behaviour.
“Bless her,” Scorpius grinned.
“I’m right here, you know,” Astoria said in mock indignation.
“It’s hard to miss you,” he replied, and she whacked him playfully on the arm.
“Anyway, how are you, really?” she repeated, again looking him over in a most critical manner. “You look a bit thin, darling,” she said disapprovingly. “And your hair’s a bit on the long side, too…”
Scorpius rolled his eyes. “Mother, you always say that.”
“Because it’s always true.”
He rolled his eyes again. It had never, in fact, been true, but by now he knew this kind of behaviour was only to be expected. “Whatever,” he said. “Anyway, everything sorted for tomorrow, then?” he asked, because it seemed an apt topic of conversation.”
Astoria headed back over to her fiancé, and he slipped an arm around her waist. “Pretty much,” they said in unison, both smiling at Scorpius.
“No,” Astoria answered, at the same time as Carlo said, “Yes,” causing her to whack him on the arm. “He isn’t nervous really,” she informed Scorpius. “I won’t let him be.”
The happy couple then went and sat down on the sofa together, leaving Scorpius with a choice of armchairs. He took the one closest to the fireplace (the fire was extinguished with a flick of Carlo’s wand), and watched his mother and soon-to-be stepfather with mild interest. They were sickeningly cute together, that was the only way to describe it. If he was honest with himself, Scorpius was rather jealous, actually. Oh Merlin, how pathetic was that?
“So how have you been, really?” Astoria asked yet again, and Scorpius knew there was avoiding it, so grudgingly began on a detailed recollection of the last term at Hogwarts. Yes, the work was pretty hard, but he was coping okay and his grades were fine. Yeah, Quidditch wasn’t bad, but no, he wasn’t letting it distract him from his schoolwork. Yes, all his friends were just fine as well (though, of course, this couldn't have been further from the truth); no, he didn’t have a girlfriend just now. All the usual questions. He often wondered just how bored Carlo was by this (although his mother was clearly riveted) but perhaps he tried to take an interest out of loyalty to Astoria. He had the patience of a saint, that man.
Eventually, Scorpius managed to redirect the conversation onto the events of the next day, allowing Astoria to take the floor (something she excelled at) and himself to sit back and listen, nodding and making noises of agreement every so often, while even Carlo, who was generally a man of few words, managed to get the occasional comment in.
Once every detail of the wedding down from the flowers to the seating arrangement had been discussed (“You don’t mind sitting with Niccolo, do you, Scor? And what about Carmella, you like her, don’t you?”) Scorpius insisted that he should really be getting a move on, getting unpacked etc, and he eventually managed to escape to the relative safety of his bedroom. He headed out of the living room, along the corridor past the endless paintings depicting various landscape scenes (Carlo was an enthusiastic and reasonably talented artist), and pushed open the last door he came to.
His room was decorated in the same light, airy style as the rest of the villa – not to his taste at all, but hey, it wasn’t his house. He dumped his trunk at the foot of the bed and sat down on it, gazing absentmindedly out of the open window. He could say what he liked about the decoration, but there was no denying that the views from this place were stunning. Maybe he could retire out here or something… it would certainly be something to look forward to…
He almost laughed out loud. Here he was, not even seventeen yet, and already he was thinking about retirement. That was probably a serious cause for worry, actually.
Mercifully, at that moment there was a knock at the door, jerking him out of his bizarre musings, and Astoria’s head poked around it. “Hey,” she said, opening the door a little further and taking a step into the room.
“Hey,” he replied slightly cautiously, wondering if she hadn’t been satisfied by his explanations and was in need of more information on his last Transfiguration essay or something.
She merely asked, “Can I have a word?”
“Oh, um, sure,” he said, still feeling somewhat bemused.
They had said enough already, surely? But apparently not. Perhaps, he thought, she wanted to talk with him without Carlo being there, which couldn’t possibly be a good sign. In her fiancé’s presence she generally refrained from sniping, snarling or giving Scorpius a thorough telling-off, clearly wanting to give the impression of a more tranquil disposition. In his absence, however, she was only too eager to correct and criticise every aspect of her son’s life, though as he knew she genuinely meant well he tried not to mind too much.
Closing the door behind her, she came over and sat next to him on the bed. He said nothing, assuming she had some sort of speech or lecture all planned out. When it became apparent that she did not, however, he decided to take it upon himself to break the silence.
“What’s up?” he asked somewhat lamely.
For a moment, she simply continued to stare at him, then, in an instant, she seemed to come to herself. “Nothing, Scor,” she said quickly. Too quickly. “It doesn’t matter.”
Oh. “Um, all right,” he said, more than a little confused. Why would she barge in here like this if she had nothing to say? Oh Merlin, wait a minute. What if this meant something was seriously wrong? What if she had been planning to tell him something and had just chickened out at the last minute?!
“So, we’re going out for lunch,” Astoria started quite cheerfully, though in a blatant change of subject, but Scorpius was barely listening. By now, his imagination was conjuring up a million different things that could be wrong. Oh Merlin, what if she was having second thoughts about the wedding? No, of course she wouldn’t be. Would she? No, he was being ridiculous – after all, if she was, he was the last person she would come and talk to. Or was he? Oh God…
“Scorpius, are you listening to me?”
“Er, yes,” he said distractedly, still fretting uncontrollably.
“Then what did I just say?”
She rolled her eyes. “We’re having lunch with Daphne and Roger,” she repeated, looking rather irritated now, and clearly not appreciating the amount of stress her actions were causing him.
Oh God, he thought, rather wishing he hadn’t tuned in at all. “Oh good,” was what he said aloud. “They’re here already, are they?”
“Yes, they arrived yesterday, with Ellie. Henry arrived this morning, not long before you did.”
Oh Merlin. Good old cousin Henry. This was just getting better and better. “Oh good,” he repeated. “What time are we meeting them?”
“One o’clock, at Cesario’s,” she answered. “You’ve been there before, haven’t you?”
“Oh. Well, it’s this wonderful little bistro; you’ll just love it, Scor…”
And so for the next few minutes, Scorpius was subjected to a detailed description of just how fabulous Cesario’s was, followed by something akin to a lecture about how he had to at least try to get along with Henry and Aunt Daphne, no matter what the provocation. This was all rather rich coming from Astoria, as she considered her nephew to be a conceited prig and her sister a snobby bitch, but Scorpius didn’t mind. All in all, he was just glad to be home.
Two hours later, however, as the meal with Daphne and her family loomed ever closer, Scorpius was starting to feel slightly differently. He honestly couldn’t stand his aunt, and found himself longing for the days when she had disliked him in return. Unfortunately, in recent years she had seemed to decide that perhaps she had been a little harsh, and was now scarily friendly towards him. All he could do was hope that he wouldn’t have to put up with her for too long.
At a quarter to one, Astoria and Carlo set off for the restaurant, deciding to take advantage of the pleasant weather and walk instead of Apparate. As Scorpius was not yet able to Apparate, he had no choice but to join them, although it certainly wouldn’t have been his preferred method of transport.
As it turned out, he reached the bistro slightly ahead of the other two, having sped up in order to escape their ceaseless conversation. Honestly, he’d never met anyone who could talk as much as they could. Well, except Daphne.
“Yoohoo, Scorpy!” came a shrill cry from somewhere behind him. Speak of the devil.
He closed his eyes, praying for patience. He had to be nice to her, he had to, she was family… But if she called him by that ridiculous nickname one more time then he could not be held responsible for his actions.
He turned around and saw a woman hurrying towards him. With her dark curly hair, pale skin and short stature, she looked remarkably like his mother. Remembering Astoria’s words, he forced himself to smile as he said, “Hey, Aunt Daphne.”
“Scorpius,” she gushed, “how lovely to see you!”
As she started blabbering on to him about life, the universe and everything, her husband and children came into view as well. Roger Mitchell was a small man with a short black beard, who seemed to be almost permanently tired (Scorpius sympathised with him in this – spending any length of time in Daphne’s company wore him out, too). He gave Scorpius a weary smile, and made an apologetic sort of face at him. Scorpius, too busy trying to answer every single one of his aunt’s questions to her satisfaction (she was almost as bad as Astoria!), was unable to reply, but appreciated the gesture all the same. Roger was a good guy, overall.
Someone Scorpius was not quite so impressed with, however, was Henry, who greeted his cousin with a smirk and a sarcastic, “Hey, Scorpy.” Henry liked to think he was superior to Scorpius, simply because he was three years older and two inches taller. Scorpius, on the other hand, just thought he was a complete git.
Ignoring his older cousin and having at last escaped his over-enthusiastic aunt, Scorpius turned his attention to the final Mitchell, five year old Elladora, known to all as Ellie. “Hey, sweetie,” he grinned, crouching down so their eyes were at about the same level.
“Scorpius!” she squealed, flinging her arms around his neck. He was her favourite cousin, a fact he took great pride in (despite never having met her other cousins and therefore being unable to make a judgement on them).
He stood up again, lifting her with him. “Have you missed me, princess?” he asked, stroking her hair fondly. “’Cause I’ve missed you loads.”
“’Course I have!” she exclaimed. “Missed you loads.”
Henry rolled his eyes and made silent gagging motions. (At twenty years old, you would’ve thought he would have grown out of this sort of thing. You would be wrong.) Roger looked disapproving at his son’s behaviour, but said nothing; Daphne was too busy hailing Astoria and Carlo to notice. They joined the group a moment later.
“Hi Auntie Astoria, hi Uncle Carlo.” Ellie beamed at them, her arms still wrapped tightly around Scorpius’s neck.
“Hello, darling.” Astoria smiled back, leaning in and kissing her niece on the cheek.
It was impossible not to love Ellie. She was still at that adorable age where she would trust and love a person implicitly, something which Scorpius couldn’t help but find utterly endearing. He had often thought that if he’d had any siblings, he would have liked a little sister. He also felt that they shared a certain bond, being the only two of the next generation to have been burdened with absurd names (or ‘traditional’ names, as his mother liked to put it). Henry, the lucky git, had escaped this curse, presumably through the good influence of the commendably sensible Roger.
Even the adorableness of little Ellie, however, could not make up for her mother and brother, and so for the next hour or so, their long-suffering family were subjected to a seemingly endless string of inane conversation from Daphne, interspersed with the occasional snide remark from Henry. No one, not even Astoria in her desperation for them all to get along, could have called it fun.
Once the torture was over, Henry went down into the village to do something that ‘he did not care to discuss’ (leading them all, quite rightly, to assume it was something suspicious), Daphne and Roger headed back to their rented apartment to ‘sort some things out’, and Ellie had persuaded Scorpius to take her to the beach, leaving Astoria and Carlo to return to the house together. Astoria was just starting to hope that perhaps they would be able to spend a little time alone together – something there had been few opportunities for of late what with so many family members being present (members of his absurdly large family, that is, most of whom she did not care for) – when Carlo reminded her that he too had to leave.
“My mother’s coming down from Venezia,” he said, his reluctance clear in his voice. “I need to pick her up from the airport.”
“Oh, of course,” she replied, thinking somewhat viciously that old Mama Rossi would do just about anything to spoil things between her and Carlo. Lucia Rossi was a Muggle and thoroughly disapproved of anything even remotely magical, including her son and his fiancée. She would only be staying for the next two days, but even so, it was far longer than Astoria felt she could bear. Stupid old hag.
With a swift kiss goodbye, Carlo departed, and Astoria, for want of anything better to do, headed out into the garden. She sat down on the grass, feeling, for the briefest moment, completely at peace with the world. She loved this garden. Whenever she desired to be alone with her thoughts, or when Carlo went too far in attempting to discuss his paintings with her, or when she simply wanted to achieve a decent tan, she would come out here and enjoy some quality time on her own.
Suddenly, a quiet voice pierced the silence: “Astoria?”
To her mortification she actually jumped a good inch into the air. Apparently she wasn’t quite as alone as she’d thought. Utterly bemused as to who it might be, she turned around, expecting some relative or ex-pat neighbour. But it was neither.
Oh Merlin. Oh bloody effing Merlin.
“Draco,” she said, forcing her voice to remain even, “what the hell are you doing here?”
Meanwhile, down at the beach, Scorpius was gloriously oblivious of his father being in the country. While Astoria was left to deal with the mysterious appearance of Draco and wonder what in the world her ex-husband might be doing there on the eve of her wedding, Scorpius’s biggest problems at the moment were little Ellie (who had decided to amuse herself by throwing sand in his face) and his Aunt Daphne (who had unfortunately decided to join them, and was currently trying to force-feed oranges to both him and her daughter).
To counteract these stresses and allow the day to continue to be a pleasant one, however, Carmella – one of Carlo’s many nieces – was there as well. The Rossi family was an excessively large one, comprising of a whole eight daughters and two sons, all of whom in turn had equally excessive numbers of children. Astoria, determined that her son should bond with at least one of his future step-cousins, had thrust him at each one in turn, with relative success – while Scorpius had found most of them either irritating or incomprehensible or a combination of the two, he had instantly latched onto Carmella.
Not only was she sweet, funny and brilliant company, she spoke remarkably good English as well, something that was a definite bonus and certainly set her apart from most of the others. She was also – something that Scorpius had been unable to ignore on more than one occasion – extremely attractive. There was just something about the Italians, he had decided, with their dark hair and copper skin and ridiculously sexy accents. Unfortunately for Scorpius, this particular Italian was not remotely interested in guys. At all. End of story. In fact, on more than one uncomfortable occasion, he had found both their gazes following the same bikini-clad girl as she strode across the beach, and so, despite being convinced that in many ways Carmella was essentially his idea of a perfect girlfriend, Scorpius had long since given up on that score.
“Carmella, I’m sure you’d like an orange, wouldn’t you?” Daphne was saying, clearly having no intention of giving up until they had all consumed their vitamin C quota for the day.
“Um, yes, okay,” Carmella replied in her Italian lilt. “Thank you, Mrs Mitchell.”
“It’s a pleasure, my dear,” Daphne said happily, before looking pointedly at Scorpius. He, on the other hand, had no intention of giving in to her, as he knew that if he took the orange, there would be apples and pears and rice cakes to come. He had dealt with Daphne before, while polite, eager-to-please Carmella really had no idea what she was getting herself in for.
“You know what, I feel like a walk,” Scorpius said quickly, keen to escape his aunt. “Coming, Carm?”
“Sure,” she said, getting up off the sand and brushing herself down.
“Me too!” Ellie squealed.
“You’d better ask your mum first,” Scorpius told her.
Ellie turned to Daphne. “Can I please go, Mummy?” she asked imploringly.
“Of course, dear, but remember to stick with Scorpius and Carmella, all right?”
“Yes, Mummy,” Ellie said obediently, and so the three of them set off.
They walked a fair way along the beach until they were a safe distance away from Daphne, and then simply made camp again. Ellie entertained herself running back and forth to the sea, shrieking every time her bare toes made contact with the water as the tide went in and out. This did not, however, stop her returning again and again to marvel at the shells and pebbles that lay concealed in the sand. Whenever she found a particularly exciting one, she would proudly present it to Scorpius, who, under her watchful eye, had no choice but to loyally admire it for a few seconds before placing it into his pocket.
“You are lucky to have a cousin like her,” Carmella observed, as Ellie scurried yet again back towards the sea. “I am not so fond of Henry.”
“Yeah, me neither. So you’ve met him, then?”
“Yes, earlier today for the first time. He does not seem very nice.”
“Yeah, he isn’t.”
“But Ellie will make a very cute bridesmaid.”
“So will you,” he said truthfully. Being Carlo’s favourite nieces and Astoria’s favourite of his relatives, Carmella and her sister Sophia would be accompanying Ellie in the role of bridesmaids. For his part, Scorpius was simply glad that he had no role whatsoever to play in the ceremony (his mother had clearly know that, no matter how simple a task it might be, he would almost definitely mess it up).
“Thank you.” She grinned, picking up a handful of sand and allowing it to trail through her fingers. “I am excited about tomorrow.”
“Yeah, me too,” he agreed diplomatically, deciding not to mention the sense of foreboding he had about the impending events. He had resigned himself to that fact that yes, it was going to be weird and uncomfortable, and that Draco would no doubt expect a full report from him about it upon his return home, but that ultimately it was going to make his mother happy, and, really, that was all that mattered.
Carmella then chattered on for a while about the dress she was going to wear, the three pairs of shoes she still had to decide between, and whether she should wear her hair up or down, with Scorpius making the occasional comment whenever he felt able, which, considering the topic they were discussing, wasn’t very often.
Time simply flew by, and before he knew it, the hottest part of the day was upon them. Scorpius made a mad dash for the nearest source of shade, keen to escape the heat (with his absurdly pale skin, he burned up in seconds, and had so far been keeping sunburn at bay with copious amounts of lotion), which greatly amused Carmella. While she could understand the need for such behaviour in the height of summer, she pointed out very sensibly that it was December for Merlin’s sake, and therefore such precautions were completely unnecessary.
“It’s all right for you,” Scorpius told her. “You tan. I just burn, and then you really would have reason to laugh.”
“Ellie is fine,” Carmella said. “And she is five.”
“Yeah, well, she got her dad’s normal skin, whereas if I’d escaped the dreaded Greengrass and Malfoy genes it would’ve been a miracle. Seriously, at family gatherings we’re quite a sight – in certain lights you can’t tell Great Aunt Ethel from a corpse.”
“Yeah, it really isn’t.”
“I was being sarcastic.”
“Oh. Well you really need to work on it.”
“You try being sarcastic in another language.”
At this point, Ellie, who had previously been making a sandcastle by Scorpius’s foot, seemed to tire of this, and plonked herself down on his leg before returning to her earlier game of throwing sand at him.
And that was the moment it happened. The moment when Scorpius was sheltering under a tree in a heat of barely fifteen degrees; when he was clutching a bottle of suntan lotion and halfway though rubbing it onto his nose; and when his five year old cousin was refusing to move off his leg and delighting in covering him with handfuls of sand. That was the moment she chose to appear.
And he didn’t even have time to prepare himself. The first Scorpius knew of it was when the sound of footsteps in the sand reached his ears, followed by a familiar voice exclaiming, “Oh my God, Malfoy?”
And then, unable to believe what his ears were telling him, he looked up to see something that his eyes too refused to believe: Rose Weasley standing over him, the light breeze ruffling her curly auburn hair and a wide grin slowly spreading over her freckled face, wearing nothing but a pair of very short shorts and a white vest top which, thanks to the spray, was clinging very nicely to those fabulous curves of hers.
Thank you, God.
A/N: Arghh, I know, another cliffhanger! I know I use them too often but I just can't help myself xD So, Rose is there ... Coincidence? Only time will tell... *looks mysterious*